June 20, 2018
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Elderly tattoo master draws customers to remote Philippine mountain village

Buscalan, Philippines, Dec 1 (efe-epa).- There is little in the remote, forested mountains of the northern Philippines that resembles the bustling capital city to the south, except for the dozens of young people who flocked there Friday to receive tattoos on their bodies.

Filipinos from all over the archipelago and even some foreigners, come to the mountain village of Buscalan so that nonagenarian Whang-od Oggay can mark them with her traditional tattoo art.

Believed to be between 94 and 99 years of age, Whang-od on Wednesday morning went into her work hut overlooking green forests where she prepared to practice her highly-coveted craft on the first of some 20 customers in the queue, an epa journalist reports.

The artist is widely-known in the Philippines as the oldest living 'mambabatok' (tattoo artist) of northern Kalinga province, and perhaps the oldest tattoo artist in the country. Her renown means the 10-hour, 292-kilometer journey from Manila is no obstacle for her customers.

Her tools - charcoal soot mixed with water for ink, a wooden stick and pomelo tree thorns for needles - echo both the rural surroundings of Kalinga and a pre-modern era of tattoo art

Customers can choose from dozens of naturalistic designs displayed on a board in her hut.

Whang-od charges 100-500 pesos ($2-$10) for a tattoo, which, depending on the design, can take one to two hours to etch into the skin.

A group of three Filipino tattoo enthusiasts traveled all the way from the southern city of Davao, hometown of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, to receive her handiwork.

But they didn't travel as far as Marc Piñol Ruiz and Sergio Santos Lopez, both Spaniards, who stayed in Buscalan for four days as part of their trip to receive body art.

The pair told epa that the experience was incredible and unforgettable, as Ruiz showed off his new traveler crab, eagle and snake skin designs, and Lopez removed his shirt revealing a sun-and-moon tattoo.

The traditional artist's fame has helped bring in income for her village, as some residents work as porters and guides for visitors climbing local mountains.

Others rent out rooms where customers can stay overnight if they can't receive tattoos on the day they arrive, as Whang-od's queue extends to over 100 people on the weekends.

Her value to the Philippines is such that there have been calls for her to be recognized as a National Artist, and she is already being considered for the National Living Treasures Award.

For Aboc Palicas, the artist's niece, Whang-od's maintaining of the tradition of Kalinga tattoo art and financial assistance to her neighbors is enough of a treasure for the village.

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